If you are divorcing or separating, you are in one of 2 positions: Either you are leaving, or your are being left. Rare is the situation where both spouses have looked at each other and decided to “call it quits.” If you are the “leavor,” likely you have been thinking about taking this step for some time. If you are the “leavee,” likely your whole world has just been rocked, and you’re wondering how you will make it through the next day.
Either way, you need a plan. I recommend that you have two types of plans, one short-term and one long-term. Having a divorce mediation plan will give you structure, and a fall-back position for every situation. When in doubt, follow the divorce mediation plan. Without a plan, you relinquish control over your life to others, including your ex, lawyers, mental health professionals or even close friends and family.
You will achieve the best result in your divorce when you have a short term and long term plan of action. I urge you to make this a priority.
SET THE TONE FOR COOPERATION EARLY IN THE DIVORCE PROCESS.
About 20 percent of divorce cases end up as “high conflict” cases. These are the cases that acquire horrible reputations with the courts and other professionals. They are characterized by frequent yelling, and even physical violence, during child exchanges, court appearances and other contacts. There is a low level of trust between the former spouses, and each is ready to believe the worst about the other.
Don’t be one of these cases. The single biggest predictor for poor post-divorce child-rearing outcomes is conflict between the spouses. When you have conflict with your ex, your children feel caught in the middle, not knowing who to support. Witnessing conflict causes anxiety and insecurity in young people, which ultimately leads to low self-esteem and poor academic performance. It can also lead to drug abuse, sexual activity and other high-risk behavior as your children or teens seek to self-medicate their anxiety.
Typically, a divorcing person will rush off to an attorney soon after the divorce. In my experience, this is a mistake in the vast majority of cases. Yes, there are some cases where you must protect yourself, especially if your ex is abusive or highly controlling. However, in the vast majority of cases, some cooperation in the very beginning will shape your divorce outcome for years to come. To have a “good divorce” (i.e. a divorce characterized by cooperative co-parenting and low or no conflict), the parties must establish a new type of trust. This may be difficult if you feel hurt or betrayed, but it is crucial to avoiding the pitfall of jumping into high conflict from the start.
It is helpful to see your early divorce as like a sapling. If the sapling is bent, it will grow into a bent tree. If it is straight, it will grow into a straight tree. In the same way, a divorce that begins with high conflict and mistrust is likely to grow into a high conflict divorce. By contrast, if you establish some cooperation from the outset, you lay the groundwork for a low- or no-conflict divorce which will benefit you and your children with years of happiness and good parenting.
WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES?
If you just found out that your spouse has decided to divorce you, it may be difficult to think about what you want out of life, but I urge you to try. Everyone operates from a set of core values, even if they have never written them down or told them to anyone. Such values include family, hard work, health and wellbeing of children, physical health, financial independence and so on. You may be feeling like your highest priority is to make the other spouse pay for their betrayal. If you feel this way, think long and hard about it. You may be trading a short-term gain (revenge against the betraying spouse) for a long-term loss (years of high conflict with your ex, hurting you and your children). Now is the time to decide which future you will have.
Early on, survival will be a high priority. I urge you not to think too long-term on this one. You will need to figure out how to get by for a few months until you can get some broader agreements or perhaps court orders for support. For now, I want you to think about what type of divorce you want, and lay the groundwork for building trust down the line.
There are several things you will need to think about to create a short term plan, one you can live with for a few months during the divorce and negotiation process. First, how are you and your spouse going to survive for the next few months? Yes, I did say “your spouse.” It’s important to think of this initially, as you will want to lay the groundwork for a high-trust situation after the divorce, for the sake of your children.
Do plan who will move out of the family home, and how the mortgage will be paid. If you are the breadwinner and your spouse is a stay-at-home mom, assure her that you will provide sustenance for her and take care of the bills during this initial phase, until more permanent agreements can be put in place. This will help her to refrain from running to an attorney and obtaining interim “temporary orders,” which tend to become permanent arrangements later on. Do everything you can to assure her that she will be taken care of.
You will also need a temporary parenting plan. The word “parenting plan” is a term of art used in the courts. It means, simply, what time each spouse will spend with the children, the visitation schedule, and the division of parenting responsibilities.
You will want to be careful here, as when courts establish custody, they tend not to disturb arrangements that appear to be “working.” Courts call the situation at the time of their decision the “status quo.” If you are sharing parenting time with your ex, be prepared to have a judge say that this arrangement is working, and for it to become the permanent order. Therefore, it is important to know what type of parenting plan you want from very early on in the case. Divorce Life Solutions can help you to devise a temporary parenting plan based on your parenting values, that you can propose to your ex as a temporary plan.
You will be light years ahead if you can decide your ideal divorce outcome from the start. If you are prepared with a written parenting plan to give to your ex, this proactive step will help establish trust, and a status quo you could live with if it became the final order.
I recommend that you make the establishment of trust and cooperation a high value in your divorce. In this way, you will have a divorce you can live with. Remember, although you are divorced, as long as you have children with this person, you will have some sort of relationship with them until the youngest child turns 19 or graduates from high school. A high-trust relationship makes it more likely that your children will turn out okay. Also, if your spouse agrees to support arrangements voluntarily, he or she is much more likely to pay those obligations in a timely manner. Studies have shown that a spouse is much more likely to timely pay a negotiated support order than an order from a judge after a bitter trial.
Unless there is abuse, or you fear a surprise attack from your spouse, I advise that you not go to an attorney right after you find out about or decide to divorce. Attorneys usually have a set way of handling cases, first filing the divorce, then serving it on the other party (often in an embarrassing manner at their place of work). The attorney’s next action will usually be to file for a hearing called an “order to show cause” (OSC). At an OSC, an attorney will request various restraining orders and temporary support orders. Then comes the discovery phase of the litigation, where the parties produce documents, answer written questions under oath (interrogatories) and give sworn statements (depositions). These events serve to entrench the parties and lead to an atmosphere of low trust and cooperation. Also, contested cases can cost an average of $30,000.00 in attorneys fees and costs. I have seen people who have spent as much as $120,000.00 on each side. These funds are much better devoted to creating a fabulous post-divorce life for you and your children.
You will do much better if you refrain from retaining counsel, and if you and your spouse work out the temporary arrangements quickly. I advise that support payments be calculated based on the Family Code’s support guidelines. You can have the Family Court Facilitator at your local courthouse run the numbers for you, or you can contact Divorce Life solutions to find the amounts for these payments. Decide who will move out of the family home, and how the first month’s rent and deposit for the apartment will be paid. Remember, these are temporary arrangements. Therefore, it is not necessary that you have your ideal apartment or home right now. Just think about how you, your ex, and the children will get by for now.
I recommend that you reduce these arrangements to a written agreement. Be as specific in the agreement as possible, as any unclear terms are a minefield for conflict later on. You’ll want to specify the “what, where, how and when” questions in the agreement. For example, “Husband agrees to drop off both children at daycare by 9:00 each Friday morning for the weekend stay at Wife’s residence. Wife to pick up children at daycare after 12:00 noon each Friday for this weekend stay.” Specify times for drop-offs and pickups, and a temporary holiday schedule. If you or your spouse’s feelings are still raw, I recommend that pick-ups and drop-offs not be made at the other spouse’s home, but that you choose a neutral place, such as the school or daycare, for the exchange. Face-to-face meetings can cause the adrenaline to flow, and lead to conflict in front of the children.
YOUR LONG-TERM PLAN
The breakup of a marriage can devastate a person’s self-esteem and sense of life’s meaning. Human beings all grieve at times of loss, and divorce is one of the hardest losses to overcome. The good news is that on the other side of that grief lies the life you always have wanted. You need only seize this life, and it can be yours. No matter what toll the financial and emotional devastation has taken, you can have the life you have always wanted. Your divorce may be the watershed event that brings your ideal life into being.
At times like these, taking stock of your passions and values is vital. What type of relationship do you want with your children? What is the career you have always wanted, but been too busy to get? Have you ever dreamt of going back to school, or traveling, or starting a new business? These things are all within your grasp, but you must be intentional about getting them.
Having a vision for your long-term future also benefits you now, because it trains your focus away from your loss, your conflict and your ex. Your vision statement will focus you like a laser on the life you wish to create. Do you want to be wealthy? Financially independent? Well-educated? Spiritually developed? Would you like to have that man or woman in your life who is truly your soul mate? This is all possible. And, your support obligation, your property settlement and your child-sharing arrangements cannot keep you from your true life’s mission.
You may be angry about the divorce, and see it as a betrayal of trust. I say, use that anger constructively. Anger is a dynamo that creates energy for change. Sadly, most people will turn their anger toward getting revenge or making sure their ex doesn’t take advantage. You can win by turning the energy of your anger toward creating a beautiful, bountiful and abundant life for yourself and your children. As George Herbert remarked more than 300 years ago, “Living well is the best revenge.”
Divorce Life Solutions can help you here with its Ashes to Riches ™ program to co-create the life you’ve always wanted. We do this by identifying your top five passions in life. We then create a detailed written vision for that life, and a plan to bring it into existence. I have developed powerful tools to harness the power of intention, so that you can change the way you are being, not just what you are doing, to achieve change and prosperity.
If divorce is a new reality for you, you may be emotionally devastated. You may be tempted to seek revenge by hiring the most aggressive lawyer you can find and going for your ex’s jugular vein. If you are headed down that path, please stop and think again. What you do now will shape your divorce, and possibly your life, from now until your children are in college.
I urge you to set a tone of cooperation with your ex or soon-to-be ex, by considering their survival as well as your own. Work with them on creating temporary living arrangements, support arrangements and a parenting plan. Divorce Life Solutions is here to help with this.
After things have settled down a bit, now is the time to take stock of your life. Within all crises lie seeds of opportunity. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. There was a reason you met your former husband or wife, and there was something you needed to learn from that person. Now, you are confronted with the challenge of divorce. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn what life has to teach you. By working with Divorce Life Solutions and the Ashes to Riches™ program, you can have the life you have always dreamed of. You can live according to your passion, not according to others’ dictates.